Exclusive: JJ Lawhorn keeping country music real

Country newcomer JJ Lawhorn just released his major debut CD, Original Good Ol’ Boy, via Average Joes Entertainment on Tuesday (July 16th) but is already becoming a household name with country music fans. Recently named one of Billboard Magazine’s “New and Noetworthy Acts — Billboard Presents Bubbling Under,” the rural Virginia native has already sold a whopping 300,000 digital downloads, and his new single, “Stomping Grounds,” has sold 16,000 prior to the label’s mainstream radio push.

This week, Lawhorn took time out of his busy schedule to chat with me from Nashville about his brand of music, what influences him as a singer/songwriter, and the current state of country music.

You signed with Average Joes Entertainment, who has notable acts such as Montgomery Gentry and Colt Ford. What’s it like to be on a label with acts as big as they are?

Man, that’s awesome, man! It’s definitely humbling, you know? It’s cool to be apart of something, to be associated with people that you have looked up to and artists that you’ve listened to for a long time. So, it’s cool being an inspiring artist and have some cats that are veterans, you know, kinda be apart of your team, for sure.

Your debut album, Original Good Ol’ Boy, was released on July 16th. It’s a stellar debut disc is a perfect blend of sweet melody and raw sounding influenced by some of the industry’s most famous outlaws. Who has influenced you the most?

Yeah, man. I pull influences from all sorts of music. I don’t believe, you know, kinda like the same way your ideology is with your website. I don’t believe that good music should be bound by genres. I don’t discriminate between tides in music as far as influences go because I believe that you can find influence in everyday things as well as, you know, all sorts of different kinds of music and what not. Yeah, man. I pull influence from, you know, everything from old school blues, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Skip James, all those old cats all the way to bluegrass, Earnest Tubb, Lester Flatts, Ricky Skaggs, Robert Skaggs. You know, I mean, I’ve got some Motown influence, you know. The list goes on and on and on. Basically, the concept is I’ve definitely paid attention to a lot of different kinds of music. My daddy used to say, “Every situation in everything, son, you say, ‘Eat the chickens and spit the bones out.'” So, you know when I listen to the record, I take what I can from it and I just kinda get rid of the rest. So, I’m always looking for inspiration in all different walks of life, in all different kinds of music, and all sorts of shit like that.

You were recently named one of Billboard Magazine’s New and Noteworthy Acts. What’s it like getting such an honor?

Man, it’s freakin’ awesome, you know? I’m glad that, you know, there’s been some recognition for all the hard work that I’ve put in and everything that I’ve aspired to do. I’ve set goals for myself and I’ve been able to achieve those goals. It might have taken me longer to get there, you know, the road, the steps I thought I would have to take to get the credit that I deserve. You know, it was definitely different. Things didn’t always play out the way I thought they would, but at the end of the day, it just feels good to have some recognition that I feel like is well deserved.

You have a new single, “Stomping Grounds,” which is already a staple at Sirius/XM’s country station The Highway and is currently being shipped to traditional radio outlets. Tell us more about the track and the inspiration behind it.

“Stomping Grounds” is just a song I wrote about where I’m from, and basically, in a nut shell, it just gives you inside to my life and how my hometown who shapes who I am as a person. I feel like whether you’re a redneck or from a big city or whatever, there’s something in that song that can strike a chord in everyone no matter where you’re from, the country, the city. You can relate to it because it’s like everybody’s got some sense of hometown pride. It’s like when they root for the baseball team or you’re just happy that you’re just a little small dot on the map. Everybody’s got that sense of hometown pride, and if they don’t, that’s why they moved (chuckles). So I feel like it’s just a song that a lot of people can relate to regardless of what the fine details are. It’s just awesome to see people latch on and really take ownership of the song.

It’s cool, man, you know, I had this cat audition people on YouTube saying, ‘Oh, So and So, Iowa is my stomping ground.’ ‘So and So, West Virginia is my stomping ground.’ I had this guy say, ‘Beverly Hills, California! That’s my stomping ground.’ I thought that was so awesome, you know, because there’s some ol’ boy riding around in a Bentley car, you know, bumping JJ Lawhorn on his $3,000 speakers or whatever, you know? If he can understand that. If he can get it out there in California, I know anybody can. I’m trying to abridge genres. I just want to make good music that I’m proud of, that’s real, honest. I feel like I’ve really done that with this song.

Absolutely, I think that’s what music should be about. It’s definitely an art form, but it’s a way for artists to connect with people about real life situations and that’s probably one of the reason you’ve already sold 300,000 digital downloads and that single has sold 16,000 before your label has even pushed it to mainstream radio.

Yeah, man! I mean, that’s just really a testament to if you stay true to who you are. I’ve had people tell me to cut my hair and turn my hat around, and do this, do that, wear this, wear these little Skinny Jeans and all this other crap. And I was like, ‘You know what, dude? If I can’t just be myself and I’ve got to conform to sell some records, I ain’t even gonna do this.’ It should be about freedom of expression. I do what I do. I wear the clothes that I do, and I keep my hair long and continue to make the music that I’ve always made because I’m trying to prove a point, man.

You can’t judge a book by its cover. There’s all sorts of people that are different, just like me, you know, that other people may rag on ’em and tell ’em to do this or whatever. But this is just kinda like support for those kinda people. It’s like, ‘Hey man! I’ve got all these people telling me to to this, that or whatever, but I don’t care. I’m gonna do my thing regardless of what people say, regardless, even if I fail, I know at the end of the day, I didn’t change who I was to sell some CD.’

I feel like that the fact that I’ve stayed true to who I am and not change for anybody no matter what they said or whatnot. I’ve stayed the straight and narrow. I’ve stepped the course. It’s paid off for me exponentially. People see that I just don’t give a shit about the whole “You gotta do this! You gotta do that!” I’m not a horse. You’re not gonna lead me around with an apple. I’m gonna trot off in whatever field I wanna go graze in, you know?

I’ve been through that with having long hair and I don’t care. This is who I am so I completely understand. You have to stay true to yourself and be who you are despite what this world tells you.

For sure, man, because everybody’s gotta opinion on everything. Just like I’ve got an opinion. I think all these people that are trying to tell me to change are a bunch of idiots. They don’t know me and they don’t know the content of my character. It’s kinda just prejudice. I’m not really kin to that shit, but at the same time, they got their own opinion, too, but, the only time that matters or anything is if you let it have that weight. That’s the only time that negative comments and stuff like that can ever get to you. I just try to stay above it and just go, ‘Hey man! Like, I’ve always been me. You’re too busy trying to tell other people what to do and this, that or whatever. You can’t be happy with other people unless you’re happy with yourself.’ I just feel like I’m just making a statement saying, ‘Hey! I’m gonna do me. You do you’ and basically it paid off, man.

JJ Lawhorn - Original Good Ol' Boy

I’m glad to hear in this day and age when there is so much [conformity] and processed music, that there are still artists who are keeping it real and raw.

There’s something about that non-man-made sort of thing. It’s like, you know, you got that engineered stuff and it sounds so generic. I feel like it’s definitely a negative thing for country music. I don’t know man! When I go to a show, I wanna hear somebody rock out. I wanna see ’em freakin’ shred on the drums, twirl the sticks, throw ’em up in the air and bang the hell out of ’em. I don’t wanna see some ol’ boy up there punchin’ buttons on a machine, you know. I mean, it’s cool, you know. It’s fine for some people. As far as what I’m trying to do, my vision, you know, I don’t want any of that engineered crap. I just want the real deal, the raw, uncut energy. That’s the stuff that I feel like the real people, you know, they feed off that.

When I’m up on stage, it’s like, I always tell everybody I don’t sing country music, I just sing and that’s just what comes out. I don’t just hear music, I feel it. So when I’m up on stage, some people get pissed ’cause I close my eyes, man and I just rock out. Not only is the [music] designed to take a people back to a place and time and paint a picture, it’s also for me. When I sing those songs, you know, I’m passionate about it. That’s my life. So, I’m closing my eyes because this song that I’m singing is taking me back to a different place and time. It’s almost like a surreal thing. I convey the fact that I’m very passionate about what I do. I’m passionate about the songs that I sing because they’re real and it’s my life.

Producer Jeremy Stover discovered you on YouTube and helped get you a publishing deal with EMI Music Nashville, and, of course, a recording contract with Average Joes Entertainment, which led you to collaborate with some big names in the Nashville songwriting community.

I either wrote myself or co-wrote every song on this record. That’s also something I take pride in, you know, being a part of every song. And not just like, ‘Oh I gave them one or two words,’ you know, actively engaging in the whole process. Songs that I co-wrote with other people, they were songs that were a direct output of my creative intinuity as well as theirs, you know. There’s different ways of saying what you want and people can help you figure out a different way of saying that, at the same time, it’s like, it’s not ‘Oh, they came up with the whole song and that’s our shit,’ so it’s a cool thing, man. I believe that there’s no real way to be able to duplicate the same emotion that a songwriter has when he wrote that song.

You know, you might get Carrie Underwood to cut your song that you wrote. At the same time, Carrie Underwood might have been through a similar situation. That’s why she likes the song and she wants to sing it. But, there’s no way to duplicate the emotion that was felt when that person wrote that song. My daddy used to say, ‘Son, you know, if you don’t lie to people, you’ll never have to remember the story that you made up.’ I just feel like that for me — I’m not bombing on other people who cut songs because everybody does it, but at the same time, I just don’t care, like, who it is. They might sing fifty times better, but when you hear that ol’ boy who wrote that song sit down and hear the pain in his voice or you hear that uncut, raw emotion. It’s like it doesn’t matter that he’s not as good as a singer. It’s like, this is the emotion the song was supposed to show you, it was supposed to be portrayed — be portrayed this way. Everybody has their own representation of the songs and whatever.

When you cut somebody else’s song, you know, it’s like, your own interpretation of it, but the thing that you just lose in that whole process is — you don’t know where that person was at. Regardless of whether you’ve been through something similar, you don’t really know what that person was feeling when they wrote that song. That’s why that emotion is unmatched, you know?

Besides promoting this album and touring, what else do you have planned?

Well man, actually, I’m getting ready to start writing for my second record. You know, Nashville is kinda a year or two behind as far as releases and all that stuff goes. You kinda have to be proactive and go ahead and engage in those sorta things way before hand. Yeah, man, I’m gonna start writing for my new record. I’ve got the touring going on. The record release — I’m sure we’ll shoot some more videos for some of the songs on the record. Basically, I’m just gonna to get acquainted with a lot of the radio people and go around and try to convince people to get on my side, as far as radio goes, so I can have a large platform, as well as the internet — and you know, tools like that — the resources. The radio is still extremely prevalent even though, you know, social media and the internet and stuff has really changed the whole ‘What you can do without radio’ sort of thing. But at the same time, radio is a very important aspect to a musician’s career so it’s definitely a podium you want to be standing on if you can. I will be trying to dedicate a lot of time to become very familiar with those people and try to build some relationships and just make things move. The biggest thing is really the touring — going out there and getting in front of people — just making impressions and really just being undeniable wherever you go. A lot of great things are to come. I can’t rattle ’em all off the top of my head right now. I got the record [out], do a lot of touring, work on the radio stuff, and continue to build some data to further the story of JJ Lawhorn.

You can catch Lawhorn on the road this summer on his Original Good Ol’ Boy Tour. The July dates include Cullen’s Cove in Mechanicsville, VA on the 19th, Sidewinders Steakhouse & Saloon in Roanoke, VA on the 20th, at The Boathouse in Myrtle Beach, SC on the 21st.

In August, Lawhorn will play Schmitt’s Saloon and Davisson in Morgantown, WV on the 3rd, Jefferson County Fair in Jefferson, TN on the 16th and Motorheads Sports Bar in McDonough, GA on the 31st.

Lawhorn will also be apart of the Country Cruising – The Best Country Cruise Ever – January 12-19, 2014 featuring Trace Adkins, labelmates Montgomery Gentry, Wynonna, Neal McCoy and many more that will set sail from Miami, FL to Ocho Rios, Jamaica;
Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.

You can purchase Original Good Ol’ Boy on CD through Amazon or digital download through iTunes or Google Play.

For more information, visit Lawhorn’s website, Facebook and Twitter.

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.

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